Kevin Wilson's first season as head coach at Indiana has been tough to endure, as his team has lost nine of its 10 games. While the first four defeats all came by seven or fewer points, the last five have been by 14 or more. The Hoosiers have been idle since a 34-20 loss to Ohio State back on November 5, the seventh consecutive defeat for the program.
As for Michigan State, it is 8-2 overall and 5-1 in Big Ten Conference play, good for sole possession of first place in the Legends Division. Last weekend, the Spartans captured their second consecutive victory with a 37-21 decision over Iowa on the road, and Mark Dantonio's club can clinch a berth in the inaugural Big Ten title tilt with a win this weekend and next over Northwestern.
"I think you've got to come in mentally ready and you have to bring your emotions with you," said Dantonio after last week's win. "We talked about either being the storm or weathering the storm. We didn't know which was going to happen. But we were going to have to be prepared for each, and that's what we did."
Michigan State owns a 40-15-2 advantage over Indiana in the battle for the Old Brass Spittoon.
Wilson came to Indiana with the reputation of being an offensive mastermind, but his team hasn't done much scoring this season. The Hoosiers are generating only 22.9 ppg and 373.5 total ypg, numbers that could certainly stand some improvement. The ground attack has managed a modest 3.9 yards per carry to date, and while Indiana has made good on 43 percent of its third-down conversion attempts, 27 sacks allowed have hurt the cause. Clearly, the offense lacks a standout performer and a leader, as three different QBs have received significant playing time.
Against Ohio State last time out, Tre Roberson took every snap for the Hoosiers and completed 11-of-21 passes for 174 yards with one touchdown and one interception. As runner, the freshman signal caller gained 70 yards on 20 carries to pace the squad. Kofi Hughes was tremendous at WR, making eight grabs for 147 yards and a score.
"I've just been in the right place at the right time," said Hughes. "Tre [Roberson] has been doing a great job. I've just been trying to take advantage when the ball comes my way."
Opponents are racking up 36.0 ppg and 452.6 total ypg against an Indiana defense that leaves much to be desired. The Hoosiers are surrendering 245.8 rushing ypg at a clip 5.3 yards per carry, numbers that are simply unacceptable. The play against the pass has been just as poor, as opposing QBs are averaging 14.7 yards per completion and have tossed 22 TDs against five INTs.
Ohio State attempted only 11 passes against Indiana, completing five for 55 yards. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they were dominated at the point of attack, and OSU was able to rack up 346 rushing yards at a clip of 7.5 ypc.
"We need to keep getting better, and that's all there is to it," said linebacker Chase Hoobler. "We have a lot of young guys out there, and sometimes we're not as physical as we should be because we're trying to read the other team so much."
Switching focus to Michigan State, it posted 443 total yards and four offensive touchdowns in the win over Iowa last weekend. The production would have been better if not for a 4-of-16 effort on third-down conversion attempts. Fortunately for the Spartans, they played turnover-free football. Kirk Cousins completed 18-of-31 passes for 260 yards and three TDs, and Le'Von Bell rushed for 112 yards and a score.
"I thought we were able to run the football more effectively," said Dantonio. "Our team has to do this all together or it doesn't work."
The Spartans are posting 27.6 ppg and 375.4 total ypg this season, and they have 30 offensive touchdowns under their collective belt. Bell has run for nine scores and 640 yards, but the ground attack takes a back seat to Cousins and the passing game. The QB has thrown 16 for scores against only five interceptions, and he has completed 63.5 percent of his attempts for 2,249 yards. B.J. Cunningham is clearly the top option on the outside, having recorded 55 catches for 873 yards and five TDs.
MSU surrendered 349 total yards to Iowa last week, including 262 yards through the air. To the credit of the Spartans, however they limited the Hawkeyes to 87 rushing yards on 30 attempts, an average of 2.9 yards per tote.
Opponents are scoring a mere 16.5 ppg against the Spartans, who are yielding just 259.4 total ypg as one of the top defensive teams in all of college football. MSU is permitting just 101.9 rushing ypg on an average of 2.9 ypc, and 14 interceptions have been logged. One of many standout defenders is Denicos Allen, as he has registered 11 TFL, including six sacks.